Uvagut TV, Canada’s first national television channel in an Indigenous language, is applying to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) for mandatory inclusion in basic cable packages and is asking the public to sign a petition in support of the change.
Launched in January 2021 by the Nunavut Independent Television Network (NITV) and IsumaTV, Uvagut TV delivers 90% of their 24/7 broadcast in Inuktut, with five hours of daily children’s programming aimed at teaching language skills. The remainder of the broadcast delivers news and entertainment content to the estimated two thirds of Inuit who speak Inuktut and to encourage language revitalization among the population who don’t.
Uvagut TV’s content includes award-winning movies and television shows by Inuit programming partners NITV, Arnait, Isuma, Taqqut, Artcirq, Arviat TV Kivalliq and Kitikmeot TV. In the first phase, 60% of content will be subtitled in English with a longer-term plan to subtitle all content in both English and French.
Currently available to an estimated 600,000 households nationally through Shaw Direct satellite, Arctic Co-ops cable in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, FCNQ cable in Nunavik and online, the proposed change means that Uvagut would be automatically available to all Canadian households with a basic cable package, with cable companies in turn paying Uvagut a modest fee per subscriber.
For Uvagut TV, the change would represent an added revenue stream and a significant boost to their negotiating position with broadcasters. As a license-exempt Category B specialty television channel in Canada, they currently negotiate carriage directly with cable distributors. A mandatory distribution order from the CRTC means the onus will be on the distributors to carry the channel, rather than on Uvagut to make the case they should be included.
Since the petition launched in early October, the signatories include a relatively high proportion residing in Southern Canada who can only access the broadcast online or through a subscription satellite package.
The proposed alteration recognizes a fundamental human right that is enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: the right for Indigenous communities to have access to television in their own language. Uvagut TV has been providing crucial news coverage in Inuktut of important events such as the 2021 federal election, the 2022 Papal visit, Review Board hearings and Truth and Reconciliation events.
NITV positions Uvagut TV as a direct part of Canada’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation in that it allows Canadians nation-wide to watch and participate in Inuit culture.
The move would also strengthen the Inuit media sector, with an estimated 80% of new revenue generated slated for new Inuktut content creation, with 8–12 new series made by Inuit producers funded annually.